by Bill Althaus

It didn’t take long for everyone attending the first-ever Major Arena Soccer League All-Star Game to discover that former Kansas City Comets goalie Danny Waltman was still a fan favorite.

Even though he is now playing for the Tacoma Stars and played goal for the visiting West squad, coached by Stars and all-star teammate Nick Petera, he and Comets legend Leo Gibson received the biggest cheers in pregame introductions Saturday night at socially distanced Cable Dahmer Arena.

After a 2-2 first half, Waltman guarded the net the second half, and to call his play sensational would be an understatement.

“You saw Danny in the second half, that is the Danny all our fans remember,” said Gibson, the player/coach for the East team, which lost 9-4. “That is why they still love him so much.

“We wanted to win, wanted to win badly since the game was played here at home, but it’s hard to get a goal when Danny plays like that.”

Perera agreed, adding, “There were a lot of all-stars in the building tonight, and Danny was the best of the best! I’m just glad he’s on our side. He’s a legend!”

Waltman stopped 15 shots in the second half to earn the MVP Award, which he was presented after the game.

In a 1 1/2-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, he made six saves, including a kick save while he was on his back and a diving save to slap the ball away from the far corner.

“That reminded me of the old days of the MISL,” said Waltman, who led the Comets to the last Major Indoor Soccer League championship before the league folded and the new MASL replaced it. “It was boom, boom, boom – it gets your adrenaline going. It’s all reaction – you don’t have time to think about anything, you just react.”

Following the game, Waltman joined many of the Comets all-stars - Nicolau Neto, Robert Palmer, John Sosa, Nacho Flores and Gibson – in a lap around the arena.

Because of COVID-19 precautions, there were only 1,200 fans allowed in the arena and the glass partition that is used for hockey games was left in place to make sure there was no contact between players and fans.

When asked about his pregame greeting, Waltman got a bit emotional.

“Man, the fans here, what can I say about the fans here?” he asked as fans chanted his name. “This will always be my soccer home. I love Tacoma – and the Stars have been great to me – but this is the place I played for a long, long time and a little piece of my heart will always be here. I love the fans.”

Someone else who loves Kansas City is former Milwaukee world champion Ian Bennett, whose Wave team is not playing this season because of the COVID-19 restrictions in Wisconsin.

“I better get out of town quick or I might just stay in Kansas City – I love it that much,” said Bennett, who scored the final East goal. “The fans are amazing here. And you have to tip your hat to the Comets – the food, the transportation, the hotel, the event! All first class. I know I get a little emotional when I talk about this game, because I love it so much.

“But we don’t have soccer in Milwaukee this season, so I am going to play in Florida. I don’t know what the season holds in store, but I just hope we get to come back to Kansas City, because this is a first-class organization and town with first-class fans.”

While Gibson is ultra competitive, he even managed a smile after the game.

“This was a great night for soccer, an important night for soccer and the MASL,” Gibson said. “Our sport has been away for a long time because of the pandemic and I think we came back the right way tonight,

“I wish we would have won, but it certainly felt good to get back on the field with some of the best players in our league.”

The West’s Cory Keitz and Charlie Gonzalez each scored two goals for the West. Keitz, who plays for the Stars, looks like a young Danny Waltman.

“Yeah, Cory is my little brother,” Waltman said laughing. “He goes out as me on Halloween – a much younger and better looking me.”